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- The Life of John Milton Vol. 3 1643-1649 - 3/128 -


with the Scottish nation! Accordingly, while the Assembly was pursuing its revision of the Articles, or occupying itself with such incidental matters as the appointment of ministers to preach before the two Houses, and the recommendation of a Fast Day extraordinary in London, their thoughts, like those of Parliament, were chiefly fixed on the issue of their joint embassy to Edinburgh. [Footnote: Lightfoot's Notes for July 1643; and my MS. chronology of events]

The Scots had foreseen the application. Three courses were before them. They might remain neutral; they might interfere as "redders," or mediators between the King and the English Parliament; or they might openly side with the Parliament and help it in the war. Great efforts had been made by the King to induce the Scots to the first course. [Footnote: Burnet's Dukes of Hamilton (ed. 52), pp. 279-298] Five or six of the Scottish noblemen who were with the King at Oxford had been sent back among their countrymen to labour for this end. All in vain. It had become clear to Argyle, Loudoun, Warriston, and the other Scottish leaders, that neutrality would be ruinous. Things were in this state when the Commissioners from the English Parliament and the Westminster Assembly arrived in Edinburgh (Aug. 7). The Scottish Convention of Estates was then still sitting; and the General Assembly of the Scottish Kirk, with Alexander Henderson again its Moderator (the third time he had been raised to this Presidency), was in the middle of its annual fortnight or so of Scottish ecclesiastical business--one item of the business this time being, I find, "the late extraordinar multiplying of witches," especially in Fifeshire. Both the Convention and the Assembly had been anxiously waiting for the English Commissioners, and were delighted when they arrived. They were six in all--Sir William Armyn, Sir Harry Vane the younger, Mr. Hatcher, and Mr. Darley, from the Parliament; and Stephen Marshall and Philip Nye from the Westminster Divines. And what moving letters they brought with them--official letters from the Parliament and the Westminster Assembly to the Scottish Convention of Estates and General Assembly, and also a more private letter signed by about seventy English Divines! And how the Scots were impressed by the letters! The private letter of the seventy Divines in especial was "so lamentable" that, when it was read in the General Assembly, "it drew tears from many." And how all were struck by the ability and gravity of young Sir Harry Vane, and liked him and Stephen Marshall, but did not take so much to Mr. Nye, because of his known Independency! In short, in conferences between the English Commissioners and Commissioners appointed by the Scottish Convention and General Assembly to meet them, it was all arranged. There was, indeed, still some lingering question at first among the Scottish leaders whether it might not do to "go as redders or friends to both, without siding altogether with the Parliament;" but Warriston alone "did show the vanity of that notion and the impossibility of it." And so Vane and the other Commissioners could write to England that their mission had been successful, and that the armed aid of the Scottish nation might be expected.

Ay, but there was a special condition. The Commissioners had come to treat about "Scottish assistance to Parliament and a uniformity of religion," and it was the prospect held out in the second phrase that most reconciled the Scots to all that was involved in the first. The extension of Scottish Presbyterianism over all England and Ireland, or, at all events, the union of the two kingdoms in some common form of Church-government not essentially differing from Scottish Presbyterianism--for that object the Scots _would_ strike in; for that object they _would_ shed their blood, as fellow-soldiers with Englishmen, in the fields of England! Now the English Commissioners, like wary men, and probably in accordance with their instructions, would fain have avoided any too definite a pledging of England to a particular ecclesiastical future. Nye, in especial, as an Independent, must have desired to avoid this; and Vane, as a man who did not know how far from his present opinions continued reasoning might carry him, may have felt with Nye. Hence, on the religious question, they tried to get off with generalities. If there were a league between the two kingdoms for their civil liberties, would not a uniformity in Church matters naturally follow? But this was not quite satisfactory to the Scottish Commissioners. "The English were for a civil league, we for a religious covenant," says Baillie; and the event has made the sentence memorable historically. Let England and Scotland unite first in subscribing one and the same document, swearing one and the same oath, which should base their alliance on a certain amount of mutual engagement in the matter of Religion! To such oaths of mutual allegiance the Scots, among themselves, had long been accustomed. They called them "Covenants." This agency of "Covenanting" had been a grand agency in Scottish History. Was not the present liberation of Scotland, the destruction of Episcopacy root and branch within its borders, the result of the "National Covenant" sworn to only five years and a half ago--that Covenant being but the renewal, with slight additions, of a document which had done not unimportant work in a former age? Why not have another Covenant for the present emergency--not that National or purely Scottish Covenant, but a Covenant expressly framed for the new purpose, and fit to be a religious pact between the two kingdoms? So argued the Scots with the English Commissioners; and, that the English Commissioners might see what was meant, Alexander Henderson, who was probably the author of the idea, and to whom, at any rate, the preparation of any extremely important document was always entrusted, produced a draft of the proposed Covenant. The English Commissioners did not altogether like this draft; but, after a good deal of discussion, and apparently some suggestions from Vane tending to vagueness in the religious part and greater prominence of the civil, the draft was modified into a shape in which it was agreed to unanimously. On the 17th of August it was reported by Henderson to the General Assembly, and passed there not only unanimously and with applause, but with a most unusual show of emotion among old and young; and on the same day it passed the Scottish Convention. "This seems to be a new period and crise of the most great affair," writes Baillie, recording these facts. [Footnote: Acts of Scottish General Assembly of 1644; Baillie's Letters, II. 81-90; Burnet's Hamiltons, 298-307.]

Baillie was right. THE SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT, as Henderson's amended document of August 1643 was called (not the same thing at all, it is to be remembered, as the SCOTTISH NATIONAL COVENANT of 1638, though generally confounded therewith), became a most potent instrument in England. This, however, could not be foreseen at first. It remained to be seen whether the English Parliament would adopt the document which had been agreed to by their Commissioners in Edinburgh. In the faith that they would, or that they might be induced to do so, the Scottish General Assembly, before its rising (Aug. 19), not only sent cordial and sympathetic answers to the letters received from the Parliament and the Westminster Divines, but also complied with that request of the Parliament which desired the nomination of some Scottish ministers to be members of the Westminster Assembly. The ministers nominated were Henderson, Mr. Robert Douglas, Baillie, Mr. Samuel Rutherford, and Mr. George Gillespie; but it was thought right, if only to accustom the English to the principle of lay-eldership, to associate with these ministers the Earl of Cassilis, Lord Maitland, and Johnstone of Warriston. Of the eight Commissioners so appointed three were to be a quorum. Accordingly, Henderson, Gillespie, and Lord Maitland sailed for London at once (Aug. 30), leaving the others to follow more at leisure. [Footnote: Acts of Scottish Assembly of 1643; and Baillie's Letters, II. 96-98.]

When Henderson reached London, he found his "Covenant" the universal topic. The Parliament had lost no time in referring the document to the Westminster Divines for their consideration; and there had been three or four days of debate over it in that Assembly (Aug. 28 and onwards). Some members, especially Dr. Cornelius Burges, took exceptions. On the whole, however, the feeling of the Assembly decidedly was that the Covenant was a splendid invention, might be adopted with a few verbal changes, and might lead to fine results. This was reported to Parliament Aug. 31; and Dr. Burges, continuing in his captiousness against this judgment of the Assembly, found himself in disgrace. The two Houses then proceeded to examine the Covenant for themselves. They also proposed some modifications of the document, and referred it back, with these, to the Assembly (Sept. 14). The arrival of Henderson and his two colleagues at this nick of time accelerated the conclusion. On the 15th of September, when they first appeared among the Westminster Divines, and Henderson first opened his mouth in the Assembly and expounded the whole subject of the relations between the two kingdoms, all opposition came to an end. The document passed, with only the modifications that had already seemed reasonable, and to which the Scots Commissioners had assented; and, "after all was done, "Mr. Prolocutor, at the desire of the Assembly, gave thanks "to God for the sweet concurrence of us in the Covenant." The words are Lightfoot's; who adds that, to make the joy complete, Dr. Burges came in radiant and repentant, expressing his complete satisfaction now with the Covenant, and begging to be forgiven. [Footnote: Burges had actually been suspended by Parliament from being a member of the Assembly for his contumacy in this affair, Sept. 2, 1643; but he was restored on his own humble petition, Sept. 15, the very day of his repentant reappearance in the Assembly. He had already on that day been called in before the Commons and had explained "that it was very true he had unhappily taken exception to some things in the Covenant," but that "he hears there had been a review of this Covenant," and such an alteration "as will give him satisfaction." See Commons Journals of the two dates named.] The Covenant having thus been finally adjusted, the two Houses of Parliament were swift in enacting it. On the 21st of September, they ordered that it should be printed and published, and subscribed and sworn to by the whole English realm; and, on Monday the 25th, to set the example, there was a solemn meeting of the members of the two Houses and of the Divines of the Assembly in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, at which 220 of the Commons and all the Divines then present swore to the new pact, and signed it with their names.--This was but the beginning. The Covenant was thenceforth the Shibboleth of Parliamentarianism. In London first, and then gradually through England, in towns, parishes, and parish churches, wherever Parliament prevailed, all had to sign it or swear to it if they would be considered friends to the cause of Parliament and allowed action and standing-room as true Englishmen. Oliver Cromwell, as a member of the House of Commons, signed it--if not among the 220 of the Commons who signed it originally on the 25th of September (at which time there is proof that he was absent from London), at least in due course; and Milton must have signed it, as a London householder. But, in fact, the signing went on for months and months, the Royal Proclamation from Oxford forbidding the Covenant (Oct. 9) only increasing the zeal for it. From Sept. 1643, onwards for some years, the test of being a Parliamentarian in England was "Have you signed the Covenant?" and the test of willingness to _become_ a Parliamentarian, and of fitness to be forgiven for past malignancy or lukewarmness, was "Will you _now_ sign the Covenant?" Such was the strange fortune of the hurried paper drawn up by Henderson's pen in some room in the High Street of Edinburgh.--In Scotland, it need hardly be said, the Covenant was sworn to with alacrity. As the document was, in its very nature, a pact between the two kingdoms, proposed by the Scots, it was useless for them to swear until they had seen whether the English would accept the pact. But, as soon as it was known in Scotland that the Covenant had been adopted by the English and that the swearing in England had begun, the Scots did their part. There was some little grumbling at first over the verbal changes that had been made by the English in the text of the Covenant; but this ceased, and it was even agreed that the changes were for the better. Accordingly, on the 13th of October, 1643, most of the Scottish nobles in Edinburgh, including 18 of the Privy Council, swore solemnly to the Covenant in one of the city churches; and from that day on, for weeks and months, there was a general swearing to the Covenant by the whole people of Scotland, as by the Parliamentarians in England, district by district, and parish by parish. Thus the Scots came now to have two Covenants. There was their own _National Scottish Covenant_, peculiar to themselves; and there was the _Solemn League and Covenant_, in which they were joined with the English Parliamentarians. [Footnote: Lightfoot, XIII. 10-16; Baillie, II. 98, 99, and 102; Neal, III. 65-70; Stevenson, 515, 516; Parl. Hist. III. 172-174; Carlyle's Cromwell (ed. 1857), I.


The Life of John Milton Vol. 3 1643-1649 - 3/128

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